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Grace and Justification

Oxford Handbooks Online


Grace and Justification  
Joseph P. Wawrykow
The Oxford Handbook of Catholic Theology
Edited by Lewis Ayres and Medi-Ann Volpe

Subject: Religion, Roman Catholic Christianity Online Publication Date: Oct 2015
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199566273.013.37

Abstract and Keywords

This essay explores the Catholic teaching on grace through some of the classic texts and
writers. It begins by comparing the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and
The Council of Trent’s decree On Justification. Although the two differ in strategy (the
latter seeking to differentiate itself from emerging Protestant teaching), the Catechism
shows itself to be in great continuity with Trent. The essay then considers the teaching of
the two most influential writers in the Catholic tradition of reflection on grace, Augustine
of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas (and some of his successors). Thomas incorporates much of
Augustine’s later teaching, but offers a more expansive account of merit and sees
predestination more as a matter of fore-knowledge than God’s causal activity. The essay
ends with a treatment of some recent writing on the subject.

Keywords: grace, merit, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Rahner, Trent, predestination, justification

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A vision reported by Hadewijch, a thirteenth-century female spiritual writer and


theologian active in Brabant, offers a fine orientation to the Catholic teaching about
grace. Hadewijch is recounting a visit to her by Jesus (Hadewijch 1980: 268–269, vision
1). Jesus stands at the centre of her spirituality: her life, her writing attests, is one of
discipleship to the Christ who has lived, suffered, and died for others, and been raised for
human salvation. She has taken up his cross and strives to echo his behaviour as she
moves on the way to the God who is her end. In the vision, Jesus expresses his pleasure at
her imitation and her progress, but thinks it pertinent to offer a mild rebuke.

She has, he knows, expressed a complaint about his call to her and to all other humans to
live by his model and to act as he acted. Of course, he agrees, she tries to act as he did.
But, he reminds her, she has noted a crucial difference between herself and Christ, which
she thinks relevant to the call to holiness and the possibility of achieving that for those
who seek to follow Christ: he is the Word of God become human. He is God, and she has
opined, his moral perfection would seem to be due to his divinity. He acts perfectly
because he is the perfect God. How, then, can she, who is not God, really do what he
asks? Jesus’ rebuke does not concern her incarnational Christology: she is correct in
thinking of Jesus as the God become human, the second person of God who without loss
to himself as fully divine Word, has through the act of incarnation also become fully
human. Instead, Jesus challenges her explanation of his personal holiness, of his ability to
act correctly and in a way pleasing to God, and so be a worthy model for emulation. It is
not because he is God; throughout his earthly life, he stresses, he did not draw on his
divinity to do the morally upright. Rather, his personal holiness—evident in his ability to
act in a morally upright way—is due to the grace and virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit
with which he had been endowed in his humanity. He as human acts well because of the
leading by the Spirit; and, he adds, what holds for him holds for her and of all others who
seek to follow his example. Jesus does call people to morally correct action and that
action is essential to reaching heaven; but he also gives them the grace and virtue and
gifts that make such action possible, so that they might act as he acts. In this brief, vivid
scene, Jesus, through Hadewijch, has sketched a Catholic doctrine of grace in its main
features. Grace is given by God in and through Christ; grace means the presence of the
Spirit in the life of the Christian. Jesus calls to moral action and makes that morally good
action possible by grace; that moral action is needed to come to eternal life and that
action requires response on the part of the human agent to Jesus’ call to discipleship and
to the divine initiative in grace.

This chapter will look in more detail at the Catholic teaching on grace as announced in
this passage from the great medieval mystic, and will employ rather different texts in
what follows. In this sketch of the Catholic teaching, I begin with two ecclesial
documents, the pages on grace in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and, then
the decree on justification issued by the Council of Trent (1547). The Tridentine decree is
in fact a principal source for the Catechism when it comes to grace, but there are
differences between the two statements sufficient to warrant their discrete treatment. I
then take soundings in the Catholic theological tradition, to indicate the variety of
approaches to grace within the broader Catholic consensus on grace. I will look first at
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Augustine, the doctor of grace, and then at Thomas Aquinas, with a glance at later
medieval teachings on grace (associated with Ockham and his followers). The Council of
Trent, in fact, drew on all three—Augustine, Aquinas, and the late medieval theologians—
in composing its decree on justification, and thus these soundings will add to the
appreciation of Trent. The chapter concludes with more recent Catholic teachings on
grace, in Rahner and in liberation theology.

Catechism of the Catholic Church


The Catechism’s discussion of grace is found in Part III, dedicated to Life in Christ, in a
chapter on Law and Grace (CCC 1987–2029). Several graces are mentioned by the
Catechism. A few have to do with the building up of the Church: ‘gratuitous graces’ or
charisms, such as the gift of miracles or tongues, allow their recipient to work for the
benefit of others (CCC 2003); the graces of state pertain to various forms and states of
ministry in the Church (CCC 2004). The other graces noted by the Catechism are
concerned with the recipient him or herself, with the working out of that person’s
salvation with the aid of God. The Catechism mentions in this regard habitual grace, and,
actual graces (i.e. interventions of God at particular moments of the person’s life. See
CCC 2000). The Catechism grants the greatest attention to habitual grace, which is also
the case in this essay.

‘Grace’ as defined in the Catechism has many facets. Grace is a gift, given freely by God
(CCC 1999). God is under no obligation to give grace to anyone; that God does and is
generous in the offering of grace, shows the depth of his love for humans and desire to
give freely of God to others. Grace involves favour (CCC 1996). To be in God’s grace
means to stand in God’s favour; and that is due to God’s love, not to any attributes of a
human that might be apart from grace. The giving of grace grants the forgiveness of sins:
one is forgiven the sins for which one repents and God does not count sin against the
recipient of grace (CCC 1987, 1989). Grace brings a cleansing of sin. And finally, grace
brings new power (CCC 1995, 1999). Humans are weakened by sin, both original and
actual, and are insufficient of themselves to enter into God’s favour or stay in it. Grace
reforms the self and makes it capable of the actions that are pleasing to God. Grace,
accompanied in conversion by the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity (CCC 1991),
establishes in its recipient new potential, a potential that is to be realized in the moral
and spiritual field. Such grace is habitual. A habit provides an orientation to action of a
kind. It adds potential to its possessor. The grace that is habitual orientates its possessor
to God as the end of human existence and provides the ability to do what God seeks of
humans, endowed with free will and called to eternal life. Quite aptly, the Catechism can
speak in this regard of new creation (CCC 1999). By grace, the sinner is remade, made
anew, moved away from sin and towards God, re-established as a properly functioning

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moral agent, enabled to act as God wills. By grace, the sinner is newly structured and by
the actions promoted by grace, the recipient will grow in grace and towards God.

The Catechism employs a traditional conceptual device in proclaiming grace. Life is


viewed as a ‘journey’, a journey of the affections and of moral acts. The end of the
successful journey is reached in the beatific vision, when the human journeyer comes in
the next life into the immediate presence of God and knows and loves God directly. This
direct knowing and loving brings fulfilment to the person, and presupposes God’s free
and loving decision to share God’s own life with human beings. God ordains human
beings to eternal life. The path to this end courses through the present life. The present
life should be preparatory for the next. The present life is itself distinguished into two
states: the state of grace and a state prior to grace when a human is still subject to sin. To
come to God as end requires that one be turned in the right direction toward God. At the
onset of the successful journey, there must be a conversion away from sin and toward
God; conversion is the move from the pre-grace state into the state of grace. The person
who has moved into the state of grace is on the right path and with the aid of grace, will
strive to do what is morally upright, that will be in keeping with the sort of nature that
God has granted this sort of being (i.e. endowed with rationality and will) and the end to
which God freely and lovingly has willed eternal life to humans (CCC 2002). The one who
acts as God wills, by the grace of God, perseveres in the state of grace and makes
progress towards the direct knowing and loving of God in the next life.

In discussing the journey of humans to God as end, the Catechism would seem intent on
keeping in proper balance two principal convictions. The first is that God takes the
initiative in the working out of human salvation. God makes the first move, as it were,
whether one is thinking of conversion into grace in the first place or staying in grace by
grace-aided good actions. God in grace goes before the person; grace is prevenient. The
second principal conviction is that God does not remake or aid the person despite the
human or without that person’s involvement, through willing and knowing. God does take
the first step, but it is incumbent on the person to freely respond to God’s prompting. In
terms of conversion, the Catechism observes that the grace of conversion is resistible
(CCC 1993). God does not coerce. God lovingly calls the human away from sin and to God
as end, but the human must accept that calling. Grace is an offer of forgiveness, of new
power; it is up to the person to accept or reject that offer. When that offer is accepted,
the person converts and is on the way to God as end. When the offer is rejected, that
person remains set in his sin, alienated from God and turned, as it were, in the wrong
direction. The Catechism maintains the pattern of divine initiative and human response, in
the account of the state of grace. Grace remains prevenient and indispensable, but the
person now in the state of grace is called on to exercise the will correctly, with the aid of
God’s grace.

God’s grace has multiple effects. To evoke two of the subheadings employed in the
Catechism’s presentation of grace, grace provides both ‘justification’ and ‘holiness’. By
grace, a person is justified before God. God forgives sinners by grace and a person is thus
considered just before God. But there is a profound ethical dimension to justification;

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grace transforms the recipient as a moral agent. A person is not simply considered just;
by grace that person is actually just, made just, transformed by the infusion of grace into
that person’s life. And by grace, that person will pursue holiness, to act as God wills for
humans called to communion with God. The transformation worked by grace in
conversion is not total nor brought to term with the simple infusion of grace. The healing
of the effects of sin takes place over time and one needs to grow into one’s vocation to
holiness. Justification and growth into holiness are a long-term process, in which there
will be times of gain and real progress, but with the possibility of lapse or regress, and
certainly of temptation away from God. Grace prompts and leads; the person must be
open to that grace and be led to correct action. The journeyer will strive to become more
and more what grace makes possible and as God wills. But the final completion of the
transformation will come only in the next life, when the journey is completed and the
person enters into the immediate presence of God.

The Catechism affirms merit (CCC 2006–11). ‘Merit’ implies reward. The affirmation of
merit marks an interpretation of the reward texts sprinkled throughout Scripture. God
rewards. God rewards the good, that is, renders to them what is deserved by their good
acts. These good acts earn their reward and do so in justice. Merit thus underscores the
involvement of the human as an agent in that person’s salvation. But, as advanced in the
Catechism, the affirmation of merit indicates as well, perhaps principally, the meaning of
grace and the role of God in the working out of salvation. By grace, God is present and
active in the life of the Christian, moving and prompting the one on the journey to the
actions that God seeks of those who belong to God. The good works of the justified show
the power of God in their lives. In this affirmation of merit as due to grace and as
restricted to the state of grace (CCC 2010, 2025, 2027), the Catechism makes nice use of
Augustine, who characterizes reward for merit as grace given for grace (see Sermo 298,
quoted at CCC 2009). Eternal life, the great reward of the life well lived, is itself a gift,
rendered to those who have been moved by God’s grace to acts pleasing to God. Holiness,
rooted in both grace and the correct response that grace elicits, finds its reward.

The Christological shape of grace is asserted throughout these paragraphs of the


Catechism (CCC 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2020).
Christ’s work for human salvation is the source of grace for all other humans. God gives
grace in and through Christ. The acceptance of grace comes in the acceptance of Christ
as saviour. And by the grace given to the believer, the person who has moved away from
sin will grow into holiness, doing so on the pattern of Christ. There is a participation in
Christ, a forming of community in which believers receive the grace of Christ that allows
them to grow into Christ. That ever-greater conformity to Christ through grace’s good
actions prepares those who belong to Christ for eternal life. By Christ, those who strive in
Christ will be granted a share in the heavenly inheritance. Eternal life can itself be
portrayed in Christological terms. Entering into heaven is to receive, as adopted children
of God, what pertains to the second person of God as natural Son of God (see Romans 8,
cited at CCC 2012).

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The Catechism’s presentation on grace is rich in citation. Scripture is quoted throughout,


passages from the later writings of Augustine (see CCC 2001; and see below), and from
the decree on justification issued by Trent (CCC 1989, 1992, 1993, 2009, 2016), are
quoted to good effect. Gregory of Nyssa is also mentioned with approval to convey
Christian perfection (CCC 2015, 2028). In addition to these obvious theological sources,
the Catechism also invokes the saints (Joan of Arc, CCC 2005 and Thérèse of Lisieux, CCC
2011), a nice reminder that grace leads to action, to instantiation in a form of life and in
specific acts that are pleasing to God.

The Council of Trent


The debt of the Catechism to Trent goes well beyond what is indicated by explicit
quotation. The Catechism’s teaching about grace is substantially the same as what is
proclaimed in the Tridentine decree on justification, and the Catechism follows Trent
closely in its positive moments. As is well known, the council was innovative precisely in
offering for the first time in Church history a formal declaration of what Catholics are to
hold about justification. As rooted in Scripture and tradition, the Tridentine Fathers
proclaim that justification entails both forgiveness and sanctification (On Justification 7);
that grace is freely given and a true gift (8); that life as journey requires God’s initiative
and the free response of humans, both in conversion and in the state of grace (5, 16); that
one’s graced good actions lead to eternal life, which is gift but also reward (16); and, that
one attains heaven through Christ (4, 7, 16), in whom the members of the Church
participate by their faith, hope, charity, and graced actions (6).

And yet there are differences between the Tridentine decree and the Catechism,
reflecting the circumstances of the council and the needs of the Church at this point in its
history. The Tridentine decree was developed in response to the Protestant Reformation.
While the Catechism sticks to straightforward proclamation, the Tridentine Fathers, along
with stating what is to be held on justification and grace, specify what falls outside
Catholic truth in light of what they think pertains to the Protestant—in particular,
Lutheran—teaching. For Luther, justification is by faith (Luther 1961). Faith is understood
in terms of trust: one no longer trusts in oneself or one’s abilities to impress God by one’s
moral strivings; instead, one trusts in God through Christ, accepting God’s word of
forgiveness in Christ. This teaching is set against the background of a contrast between
law and gospel. The law is not a strategy for salvation, a guide to correct behaviour, or
warning against sinful action. Rather, the law is given to show people their moral
shortcomings and insufficiency; it condemns the sinner and shows the need for Christ.
What one cannot do of oneself, God does, and does through Christ. Christ alone is morally
upright. By faith in Christ, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner. Christ’s
righteousness now covers the sins of the believer. In this teaching about imputed
righteousness, there is a covering of sins, but the sins remain, as does the sinful action of
the believer. The person is thus both justified and a sinner; as joined to Christ by faith,

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the person’s sins are not held against him. The championing of faith understood as trust
is accompanied by a downplaying of charity, the pre-eminent Catholic virtue. It is not that
Luther does not want people to love. But he rejects charity as essential to the salvation
process; one’s acts of charity do not make a difference to the working out of salvation and
may in fact work against that, if they are done as a way of supplementing or
complementing the faith that is trust. That would be to ascribe to the person an ability to
contribute through loving actions to that person’s reaching of God. Correspondingly,
Luther rejects out of hand any talk of ‘merit’, apart from Christ’s merit. Eternal life is not
a ‘reward’ for the good actions of the person, as if they deserve such an end; eternal life
is granted to those who are justified, and justification is by faith. Luther, in fact, develops
a concerted polemic against merit. Merit bespeaks works righteousness and overstates
what people can do before God, and contradicts the gospel message of forgiveness in
Christ.

In presenting the Catholic teaching on justification, Trent wants to state that teaching
positively, but also to differentiate that teaching from the Protestant and indicate where
Protestant teaching has deviated from the truth. In a sense, the format of the decree on
justification reflects the double thrust of the Tridentine decree. In the first part of the
decree, the chapters set out Catholic teaching in a positive way. In the second part of the
decree—the canons—Trent identifies unacceptable teaching on justification and adjacent
matters. It pronounces anathema on this or that error. Yet, even in the chapters Trent has
a concern to proclaim Catholic truth in a way that warns against possible error (e.g. On
Justification 9, 11, 12). There is an added resonance when comparing the Catholic
Catechism to the Tridentine decree on justification.

The ‘journey’ model is put to good use in the chapters of the decree. The opening
chapters are concerned with the human condition. Sin is taken seriously but not
overstated. By sin, both original and actual, the will is weakened, but correct use is not
extinguished (On Justification 1). Thus, the possibility of correct response to God’s
prompting to the good is intact. The decree posits two graces as involved in conversion
from sin and into the state of grace. The first is a predisposing grace (5). This is given to
all and can be accepted or rejected. When it is accepted in faith, the second grace is
given, the grace of justification that heals and forgives, and enhances the capacity for
good willing and doing. The theological virtues accompany the infusion of justifying
grace; it is out of these that the person, now in grace, can believe, hope, and love. The
council thus maintains a view of faith that goes back at least to Augustine: faith is
primarily cognitive, the acceptance of certain truths necessary for salvation on the basis
of the God who reveals these truths. Charity, too, is affirmed in its traditional status and
importance for salvation. The faith that justifies is a formed faith, involving the love of the
one who reveals saving truth and calls humans to communion with God. By formed faith,
one is joined to Christ; Christ as Head sustains his members and they act in imitation of
him and by the power that God grants them through him.

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Trent’s position on merit is subtle. Is there merit in the conversion from sin to grace?
Chapter 8 of On Justification explicitly states that there is no meriting in conversion. But,
the word used there—promereri—may have a particular association with merit in the
fullest sense, condign merit (Oberman 1964; see however Rückert 1971; McGrath 2005:
345–346). Medieval theologians and their sixteenth-century Catholic successors, knew
two main kinds of merit, congruent and condign. Merit as a reminder presupposes
justice, which itself involves an equality between the one who putatively merits and the
one who rewards. There is the greatest inequality, both ontologically and morally,
between humans and God. Thus, when the difference between the Creator and the
created is to the fore, and one considers a good act as done by one who falls far short of
God, there is no merit in the full or strict sense. There can be, however, a congruent
merit; for it is congruent with, in keeping with, God’s merciful character to render a
reward for the efforts of the person as human. However, a moral act can be assessed from
a different perspective, as done by and in grace. And since God is the giver of grace,
there is a kind of equality between the act, as graced, and the reward of God; and so it is
possible to posit of the act a condign merit. In conversion, there is no condign merit, but
by the use of promereri, the door is left open for congruent merit, by way of concession to
those at the council who in their own analyses affirmed such a lesser merit in conversion.

Merit in the state of grace is unequivocally affirmed (On Justification, 16 and canon 32),
but without further specifying whether it is condign, or congruent merit, or both, that is
in view. But the teaching at the council about life in grace, life in Christ, certainly allows
ascribing to acts done in grace both kinds of merit. God has generously and in love willed
to humans what is beyond their due as human. The giving of eternal life as the end of
human life is, radically, gift. But eternal life, the Council adds, is also a reward, and for
those schooled in Catholic theology, reward and merit go hand in hand. As framed by the
council, the implicit affirmation of merit is done in such a way as to meet Luther’s
concerns. The divine involvement in the good acts that can be termed meritorious is kept
to the fore; and there would seem to be no insult to Christ in affirming the value of the
graced acts of the people who belong to Christ, receive from his power, and act in
imitation of him.

The Council of Trent has worked into its decree several comments about predestination,
perhaps in light of the affirmation of predestination, in a causal sense, by some
Protestants. The council is clear enough about what cannot be held with regards to
predestination, as is clear from the canons attached to the decree On Justification. There
is no predestination to damnation and God certainly does not cause the sin that qualifies
the damned for eternal damnation (canons 6, 17). Rather, humans bring about their own
sin and hell is owed to them in justice for their sin. And there can be no certainty of being
predestined to salvation (canon 15). Such a certainty would require knowing directly the
mind and will of God; and God only occasionally reveals his will for an individual to that
person by a special revelation. The council, however, is reticent when it comes to
predestination to salvation. In On Justification 12 this is designated as a ‘sacred mystery’,
but the council leaves it at that. What ‘predestination’ means is left unexplained. There is
diversity in Catholic theology when it comes to the interpretation of predestination. Some
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great figures, such as the late Augustine and the Aquinas of the Summa theologiae had
affirmed a predestination to salvation in a causal sense: God in eternity had destined
certain people to eternal life; and in their lives, God would work out that election by
giving the operative graces (of conversion, and of perseverance) that would bring them to
that end. There were representatives of this view at the council; Cardinal Seripando
readily comes to mind. Other theologians, however, had thought of predestination rather
in terms of knowing: God knows what people do and responds accordingly, giving them
what they deserve for their actions, good or bad. In recognition of this diversity,
predestination was prudently left at ‘mystery’.

Augustine
Augustine’s teaching on grace underwent considerable development over the course of
his lengthy writing career (for further introduction to Augustine’s teaching on grace see
Burns (1999); Bonner (1993); Wetzel (1992)). The teaching falls into three main stages
(Burns 1980). There is considerable change in orientation and stress between the first
and second stages; in the third, he extends the insights that mark the second stage of
teaching. In his early teaching about grace, as represented in such writings as the
Confessions, Augustine is aware of sin but has a fairly positive assessment of the human
person. The human person is a seeker of the good, impelled by a desire for what is
perfective of the person as human. That end is God, whom all humans desire. By sin, that
desire goes askew and fulfilment is sought in what is not good or only imperfectly so. A
person will be discontent and restless, and continue to seek the true good. God offers
opportunity for this basic human desire to get back on track and calls the seeker to God.
As suggested by the Confessions, God can do this in various ways: by the circumstances
of the person’s life, by encounters with others, by holy example, and by teaching. At this
stage, grace would seem primarily external, outward, and it lies within the person’s
power to respond properly or improperly to God’s call. Predestination is, for all intents
and purposes, left to the side, although Augustine does know of a congruous call by God,
in which God employs instruments to make the call to a human to turn to God and the
true good in a way that is especially effective.

The second stage of Augustine’s teaching on grace comes in the second decade the fifth
century and is marked by his engagement with Pelagius. An important writing from this
period nicely conveys the main aspects of the teaching at this point, as well as the
distance between Augustine and Pelagius. In On the Grace of Christ (Augustine 1981),
Augustine observes that both he and Pelagius make use of a triad to teach what God and
the person do in the person’s salvation: capacity, volition, and action. By capacity, they
are referring to the human will, the will as instrument. By volition, they refer to the use of
that capacity, followed by the action that implements what is willed. When a person does
good, who deserves the praise for that good willing and good doing? For Pelagius, the
praise is to be attributed to both God and the person. To God, because God has made the

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person human and so endowed with the will as capacity; to God also, because God has
given the law and Christ, which each in their own way teach what is involved in good
willing and doing. But, the human person especially deserves the praise, because it is up
to the person to use the capacity correctly and to follow the law and the teaching and
example of Christ. Augustine, too, wants to ascribe praise to both God and to the person.
To the person, because it is the person who wills and does. But Augustine detects a much
broader contribution of God to the good that the person wills and does. God not only
makes the person human and so gives the person the capacity of will, and gives the law
and Christ to teach what is involved in good willing and doing (as in Pelagius), God also
gives a grace that works inwardly on the person. By this point in his theology, Augustine
has attained a much firmer grasp of sin and its consequences. All are born into original
sin; all are at odds with God and suffer a certain bondage to sin, an inclination to use the
will in an inappropriate, unfruitful way. As bound by sin, the exercise of will, in fact is a
misuse of will, that is, it brings more sin and so further bondage and further distance
from God. Correct use of the will cannot be regained by the person acting on his or her
own. The restoration of correct use is a gift of God, given to those who stand in God’s
favour. And that grace is inward, removing the bondage of sin, inclining the person to
correct willing and doing, and promoting that good willing and doing.

In the second stage of his teaching on grace, Augustine also invokes a teaching on
predestination, taken in a causal sense. All are enslaved to sin; in eternity God has
ordained that some will be freed from this bondage and moved to good willing and doing.
At this stage, predestination is to conversion. Conversion is itself an inner working of
God, is itself due to grace and its effect. Once converted, the person will need to use that
grace correctly, and if he does, that person will attain eternal life. Granted the more
pessimistic assessment of the human person—as enslaved to sin—this affirmation of a
predestination to conversion comes as a relief. Everyone, as bound to sin, deserves by
sinning to go to hell; by the grace of God, not all will. The doctrine of predestination can
help to cultivate a sense of gratitude to God, for God’s mercy.

In the third and final stage of his teaching, articulated in his debates with Christian
monks located near Marseilles (the Massilians), Augustine extends the scope of
predestination and posits a second operative grace that works interiorly, along with the
operative grace of conversion taught in the second stage. Predestination is now seen as
predestination to eternal life. Eternal life is a gift, given by God to those who stand in
God’s special favour. Again, the electing occurs prior to the existence of humans and is
eternal, so there is no hint here that someone stands in God’s favour because of their
personal qualities or own actions. Human good does not occasion election or eternal life;
rather all human good follows on election and its carrying out. Election is carried out,
implemented, by two operative graces: by conversion the person is moved from the state
of sin to the state of grace; by perseverance the person is kept in grace and on the way to
God as beatifying end. An inward, operative grace of conversion would have been enough
of an answer to the Massilian position. The Massilians had said that the first step on the
way to God must be taken by the human and when the human person takes that first step,
God will meet the person with the grace that facilitates the rest of the journey. But, for
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Augustine that would be to ask the impossible of the human person: by sin, one is bound
to sin; no one, because of sin, can of himself take the first step to God; the Massilian
position is an eternal death sentence. That Augustine goes on to posit a second operative
grace, of perseverance, reflects his sense of the permanent status of sin in human
existence. The operative grace of conversion moves the person away from sin and
towards God, and bursts the chains of sin. But, the convert still lives in a fallen world and
is bombarded by temptation, and by temptation not just from without. While grace marks
a transformation in the moral character of the person, that transformation is not
complete and the person is still subject to the remnants of sin. Temptation comes from
within as well. Thus, staying on the path to God requires the further grace of
perseverance; God works perseverance in the person, by which the person resists
temptation and grows in the good.

In the writings of the third stage, Augustine emphasizes God’s working in conversion and
in perseverance. That grace is operative and the person is simply moved. But, even in the
third stage, Augustine can also think of the human person as agent. Grace can also be
cooperative; once in grace, and allowing for perseverance in grace as unmerited gift, the
effect of operative grace, the person also makes a contribution to the working out of the
person’s election. Grace can also be cooperative; God cooperates with the person in grace
in willing and doing the good. That willing and doing, exemplified in acts of love, are
important for salvation and can be termed meritorious. There is no merit in conversion;
there is no merit of perseverance, but eternal life, which is principally a gift, is also
reward for the graced good actions of the elect. Even when speaking of merit, however,
Augustine is intent on keeping grace front and centre; he insists that the reward for merit
is in effect ‘grace for grace’. That observation is picked up in the Catholic Catechism,
evidence of the continued impact of the teaching of the doctor of grace.

The reception of Augustine’s final teaching on grace was uneven in the Middle Ages. In
the century after Augustine, there was considerable debate about his position vis-à-vis
the Massilians. The Second Synod of Orange (529) came out, more or less on the side of
Augustine, but the affirmation was not complete. Conversion and perseverance are
indeed ascribed to God operating; but the synod is silent on the question of
predestination. After the Carolingian period (which rane from the late 8th to the mid 9th
centuries), the late writings fell out of general theological circulation. The teaching of the
Augustine of the first two stages was known, although typically through florilegia,
collections of sayings drawn from original writings. Knowledge of the third-stage writings
was more haphazard and they returned to a broader theological audience only towards
the end of the Middle Ages.

One medieval theologian who did know these late writings, however, was Thomas
Aquinas, who rediscovered them in mid-career. His reading of the Predestination of the
Saints and the The Gift of Perseverance would make a profound impact on his own
teaching about grace.

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Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas’s own teaching on grace underwent considerable development between the
earliest presentation in the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and that in
his greatest writing, the Summa theologiae. While in the Commentary, grace is habitual
grace, in the Summa, grace is variegated, distinguished into habitual grace and the grace
of auxilium, each of which is in turn to be considered as operative and as cooperative. The
Summa’s accounts of conversion and of perseverance also differ markedly from what is
found in the Commentary; the treatment of grace in the Summa is firmly anchored in the
affirmation of predestination to salvation in a causal sense. Many factors can be adduced
to account for these developments, not least Aquinas’s recovery, in mid-career, of the
later writings of Augustine (Bouillard 1944; Wawrykow 1995: 266–276).

Aquinas devotes several questions in the Summa theologiae (ST) to grace, covering in
turn the need for grace (I–II, q.109), the essence of grace (q.110), the division of grace (q.
111), the cause of grace (q.112), and the effects of grace, both justification, which is the
effect of operative grace (q.113), and merit, the effect of cooperative grace (q.114).
Aquinas knows the difference between the grace that sanctifies and that given for aiding
in the salvation of others (q.111, a.1); the full treatment of the latter is deferred to ST II–
II, qq.171ff, with the focus in the treatise on grace put on the grace that sanctifies (gratia
gratum faciens). That grace is caused by God, who calls humans to communion with God,
and is given through Christ (ST I–II, q.112, a.1, ad 1); Aquinas will pursues the
Christological dimensions of grace at length in the Tertia Pars (e.g. ST III, qq.7–8).

On the need for grace, ST I–II, q.109 nicely sets the tone for the entire treatise. In the ten
articles of the question, Aquinas asks about the need for grace for this or that activity. Is
grace needed, for example, to know the truth (a.1), or to will and do good (a.2)? Aquinas’s
particular answers are shaped by certain key distinctions. The first is that between the
natural and the supernatural. Some act is natural to the person if it accords with the
nature of the person, as human. An act is supernatural if it lies beyond the native
capacities of the person. Thus, given his understanding of the human as knower, Aquinas
answers that grace is not needed to know truth, if that truth can be attained through
sensation (the starting point of all knowing in the world), imagination, abstraction and
judgement. For knowing such truth, one’s natural capacities suffice. But, if a truth lies
beyond the reach of the senses, then as supernatural, grace would be needed to attain
that truth.

In the first article, Aquinas has also introduced the notion of an auxilium, required for
human acting. The contribution of auxilium is asserted here on metaphysical grounds.
What is in potency to act, does not reduce itself to act, but is reduced to act by something
that is already in act. That is God, who is fully and eternally actual. God moves humans to
their act. At this point in the analysis, auxilium can be termed merely natural: in knowing

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the truth that originates in the senses, God moves the human, in potential to such
knowing, to act. As the question proceeds, an auxilium that is grace will be introduced
and the reasons for positing the grace of auxilium will be both metaphysical, as here, and
moral, taking into consideration the problem of sin.

Having introduced his first distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and
having lined up grace with the supernatural, Aquinas immediately (in ST I–II, q.109 a.2)
nuances the picture, introducing two further distinctions. The first takes account of sin, of
human existence after the fall. Is grace needed to will and do good? If the good is natural
to the person as human, there was no need for grace prior to the fall; human capacity
would suffice for such willing and doing, as applied to act by auxilium. But, the human
person as originally created was ordained to eternal life and that lies beyond the natural
powers of the human. At this point, Aquinas introduces the third of his key distinctions.
For that good, grace is required, both habitual grace and a different grace, the grace of
auxilium. Habitual grace and the virtues infused with it, enhances and extends the
powers of the human to the supernatural level, making possible actions that are raised in
dignity and oriented to God as beatifying end. And, the person perfected by habitual
grace and the infused virtues, is moved to act by auxilium, by auxilia that are themselves
graces.

After the fall, this need for grace as elevating and orienting to God as beatifying end
remains, but an additional reason is introduced. Sin affects the natural powers of the
person. The lower self enters into conflict with the higher self, seeking its own limited
goods and the entire person is taken out of subordination to God. Thus, even with regards
to the natural good, after the fall humans need grace for willing and doing the good in
keeping with human nature. As with the supernatural good, so too with the natural good
that both Aquinas’s graces required: habitual grace provides for a restoration of the self
within the human and in relation to God, so that by grace more of the natural good can be
willed and done; and God moves the person to willing and doing the natural good by the
grace that is auxilium. In sum, Aquinas has two graces, habitual and auxilium, and each of
these has two main functions, to elevate and to heal.

In ST I–II, q.111, a.2, c, Aquinas completes the enumeration of grace by distinguishing


each of these graces into operative and cooperative. Aquinas defines ‘operative’ and
‘cooperative’ as used of these two graces. Viewed has habitual, ‘operative’ refers to
being: habitual grace provides new being, by making its recipient pleasing to God and
orienting the person to God as beatifying end. ‘Cooperative’ habitual grace is concerned
with operation: by this grace, one is inclined to and disposed towards acts that bring one
closer to God as beatifying end. The greater part of the corpus of this article is concerned
with the grace of auxilium. When used of auxilium, ‘operative’ involves God moving the
mind and the mind is simply moved. Conversion is given as the great example of
operative auxilium: conversion away from sin and towards God as beatifying end is
worked by God and the person is simply moved. From the discussion elsewhere in the
treatise (ST I–II, q.109, aa.8–10), it is possible to acknowledge another example of
operative auxilium: perseverance in grace. As used of auxilium, ‘cooperative’ involves God

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moving the will but in such a way that the will also moves itself. Although it is a matter of
some scholarly debate, it is likely that Aquinas has in mind here not only external action,
but the choice of means. By operative auxilia, God provides good intention, willing the
end of the act. God simply moves the person to good intention. By cooperative auxilium,
God moves the person such that the person also moves himself, pondering how to reach
the intended end and developing and adopting a strategy for reaching the end, and then
performing the act that leads to that end. The discussion here will be continued in qq.
113–114. In the first, the effect of operative grace that is justification is explored in
depth; in q.114, the topic is merit, effect of cooperative grace. For meriting, the person
must be active and is by God’s grace.

The Summa’s treatise on grace makes ample use of the journey motif. Life in this world is
distinguished into the state of grace, preceded by the state of non-grace, of sin. Life in
this world is—or should be—ordered to life in the next, to coming into the immediate
presence of God and knowing and loving God directly. What is done in this life prepares
for that direct encounter and readies the person—who by God’s grace knows and loves
correctly now—for the beatific vision. In several of the questions in the treatise, Aquinas
reflects on conversion, the movement into the state of grace. That in ST I–II, q.112, aa.2–
3, in keeping with what is asserted in q.109, a.6, is especially noteworthy, making use of
the analysis offered in q.111.2c. Lying behind the formulation in q.112, aa.2–3 is a slogan
much employed in medieval discussions of grace from the twelfth century on: facienti
quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam (‘to someone doing his best, God gives grace’).
In the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Aquinas had offered a rather
straightforward interpretation of the slogan, putting the stress on human initiative in the
salvific process (Wawrykow 1995: 84). God gives habitual grace to someone who tries to
reform and to show God one’s own seriousness about getting right with God. Provided
someone takes that first step towards God, God will respond, infusing the habitual grace
needed for supernaturally pleasing acts. By the Summa, Aquinas has abandoned that
account of conversion. It is not the person who takes the first step; rather, God moves the
person away from sin and towards God as beatifying end, doing so by operative auxilium.
In conversion the person is simply moved. Does God have to give grace to someone who
has turned to God? For Aquinas, there are two ways at looking at this. If one looks at the
person, who is a creature, God stands under no obligation to give that person habitual
grace. To use a saying that will come into favour in the next century, especially among
theologians who play up divine willing and transcendence, nothing created can
necessitate God. God could ignore what the person does. But in converting the person is
moved and it is God who does the moving. Thus, when looked at from this angle, there is
a sort of necessity between the doing in the person and the granting of habitual grace as
the term of conversion. For God does nothing idly and since it is God who moves the
person away from sin and towards God as beatifying end, God will give habitual grace to
the one who is so prepared. Through this invocation of operative auxilium, which
expresses God’s saving will, Aquinas has in effect stood the facienti quod in se est on its
head: initiative lies not with the person, but with God and God’s will for that person.

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As the term of conversion, habitual grace is infused along with the theological virtues.
Habitual grace is both operative and cooperative, providing new being, making the
person pleasing to God, and inclining that person to acts pleasing to God. Habitual grace
is single; a person will not receive other habitual graces. Auxilium, however, is several.
There is the operative auxilium that accounts for conversion and there are the auxilia
involved in good human willing and doing. Operative auxilium provides for good intention,
cooperative for choice of the means and action; there will be as many auxilia for the
person in the state of grace as there are complete human acts that are good and leading
towards God as beatifying end. The affirmation of auxilia reflects Aquinas’s conviction
about the continued presence of God in the life of the individual. God is engaged in the
moral and spiritual progress of those who have been called to eternal life.

The Summa’s teaching about grace is anchored in the teaching about predestination
found in the Prima Pars: grace and graced human acts stand as effect to the cause that is
God’s predestining will (ST I, q.23, a.5, c). In this presentation of predestination, Aquinas
insists on the role of God’s love. For Aquinas, love is to will good with respect to another.
In ST I, q.20, he niftily distinguishes between God’s loving and that of humans. Human
willing of the good is elicited by a good that already exists or appears to exist. Human
loving does not cause that good. God’s love, however, is causal: it is in God loving that
there is good. Aquinas secures the point by noting in what sense God can be said to love
the better more (ST I, q.20, a.4). What is better, has more good, has received from God
more of the good. Aquinas will trade on this understanding in discussing creation: that
there are different levels of being, each with its own nature and so of differing capacity, is
due to God’s will, which communicates more good to some (that is, higher levels of
being), than to others (i.e. God has communicated more good to the squirrel than to a
plant). Aquinas makes good use of this teaching in presenting predestination in a causal
sense. Does God love all humans? Yes, for it is better to exist than to not exist and better
to exist as human than as a lower creature with less capacity. Does God love all human
equally? Rather, God has willed more good to some human beings, in that prior to their
actual existence, God has ordained some to the superlative good of eternal life. That
someone makes it to heaven is due to God’s causal love, to God’s intention to
communicate such good to some rational creatures. In view of that predestining, God
provides to such rational creatures the grace that is needed to attain to the end of eternal
life; in the treatise on grace in the Prima Secundae, Aquinas spells out what is entailed in
this grace that carries out predestination.

Whatever good there is in the person is due to God’s love. Holiness does not occasion
election, but follows on it. For Aquinas, however, this insistence does not prevent talk
about merit in a meaningful sense. Aquinas initiates the discussion of the role of merit in
ST I, q.23, a.5, in the context of his main presentation of predestination. Merits are not
the cause of election, but follow on election. The merit that Aquinas affirms is the merit of
the elect. And, they can ‘merit’ because of God’s willing of good to them (grace) and
because of an ordination that is part of predestination: God has ordained that one part of
the salvific process is meritorious of another. There is merit only in the state of grace and
so one who lacks grace, cannot merit. But once in the state of grace, the person by his
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graced acts can, by the divine ordination that grounds merit, merit another part, eternal
life. And so eternal life is both gift (and principally so) but reward as well; in the working
out of the salvation of a person, the goods of God’s mercy and justice are thus displayed.
In the Prima Secundae, Aquinas continues the discussion of merit, there as the
culmination of the treatise on grace. In ST I–II.114, Aquinas is as intent on specifying
what cannot be merited (grace in the first place/conversion; perseverance in grace) as
what can be (more habitual grace and the end of the journey, heaven, which is also,
radically, gift).

An important inspiration for the Summa’s discussions of predestination, grace, and merit,
is the late teaching of St Augustine. Significant Augustinian elements are taken up into
Aquinas’s presentation, although Aquinas is more expansive on select points (not least
the role of merit in a teaching that plays up predestination and God’s intimate
involvement by grace in human acting). Other medieval theologians could approach
questions of grace and freedom differently while also thinking that they too avoided the
error of Pelagius. Especially important in the later Middle Ages is the thought of William
Ockham and his followers (Ockham 1983; Dettloff 1963; Hamm 1977; Oberman 1981, ch.
3). Compared to the late Aquinas, the main points of this teaching can be stated as
follows: predestination is not affirmed in causal terms. Rather, predestination is a matter
of (fore-)knowing: God knows what a person does and responds accordingly. The person
who acts appropriately is rewarded; the one who sins is punished. Secondly, the facienti
quod in se est does double duty, affirmed of conversion and of staying and prospering in
the state of grace. When a person shows a seriousness about her relationship to God and
vows to change her ways, God gives grace; and when that person with grace continues to
show religious seriousness, God gives heaven as a reward. And, third, while there is talk
of sin and its effects, what seems especially in view in describing human–God relations is
the ontological gap, the distance between God the Creator and end, and humans who are
creatures. Considered in itself, what a creature does is of little account and need not
make an impression on God. But for Ockhamists, God has committed Godself to a course
of action: when a person who lacks grace does what is good and takes the first step to
God, God has promised to give grace, and will give grace. God keeps God’s promises and
so grace is given to the one prepared for grace, regardless of the ontological gap. There
is an additional promise that governs the person in grace: when that person with habitual
grace does what he can, God will keep God’s promise to God and reward that person
accordingly. In this analysis, the gratuity of salvation is maintained. God doesn’t have to
enter into such a contract; that God does so, is due to God’s initiative and love.

Rahner and Liberation Theology


The teaching about grace more recently advanced by Karl Rahner (1904-84) has proven
to be highly influential. Worked out in critique of the ‘manual theology’ of grace that was
prevalent in the early twentieth century, Rahner drew on the earlier (patristic, medieval)

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Catholic tradition on grace while introducing his own distinctive stresses and insights.
His goal in this teaching is ultimately pastoral: to make Catholic teaching more
meaningful and accessible to modern people. To this end, Rahner employs the scholastic
distinction between uncreated and created grace (Rahner 1961b). ‘Created grace’ refers
to the effects of God’s love for humans, in their justification and sanctification by
endowing them with habitual grace. ‘Uncreated grace’ refers to God himself, to the God
who loves humans and who is active in their lives. For Rahner, the manualists had put the
emphasis on the created effect. This, in his estimation, is to shift the focus to what is
secondary. For his part, Rahner is throughout attentive to the immediate presence and
activity of the triune God in the lives of humans. That—uncreated grace—is the grace that
is pre-eminent, and which he wishes in particular to proclaim. In championing uncreated
grace, Rahner shows the deep importance of God’s activity for human flourishing; it is by
God that a human is able to grow and act and thrive in a genuinely human way.

Rahner has a dynamic view of the human self and of human possibilities, a position that is
secured through transcendental analysis, identification of the fundamental structures of
human existence that account for the distinctiveness of the human and render possible
and meaningful particular activities in the world (Rahner 1997). To be human means to
desire, to seek the truth, and to know the good. It is to be open to truth and to have
responsibility for its pursuit. To the extent that one knows what is true and what is
genuinely good, the more one grows into one’s personhood, lives out of the nature, and
becomes what one might be as human. In this view of the human there is already an
acknowledgement of the role of God: it is God who creates, establishes the nature in its
fundamental openness and orientation to completion in knowing and loving; it is God
who, as ultimate Truth and Good, is the end of human seeking and desiring (whether or
not this is acknowledged).

But God’s role is more extensive and more intimate. God is not merely the Truth beyond
and behind all truth, the horizon of all human seeking for truth. God is personal—indeed,
tri-personal—and reaches out to humans. God does this freely and in love. God discloses
God to humans, communicates God to humans, prompting by God’s presence to them to
seek what is true, and to love what is genuinely good to realize their nature. At the same
time, by this self-communicative presence, God provides to humans the capacity to
respond to this prompting. In this regard, Rahner refers to the ‘supernatural existential’.
As ‘supernatural’, it provides a basic capacity for what lies beyond the nature, that is, for
opting for God himself. As ‘existential’, it is a fundamental feature of human existence, of
all human beings. The supernatural existential makes possible the correct response to
God’s leading through God’s presence. It does not necessitate that correct response; that
remains with the person. But when a person does opt for God, to live out of the nature,
and to be and become what a human can be, God has played a significant role.

God’s self-giving is indeed to all, to every person (Rahner 1997:127). There is no place in
this account of divine–human interaction for a predestination construed in a causal sense
by God of only some people to eternal life. Rather, God is present to all and at all times in
human history, and God thus gives all the opportunity to choose for God and to live out of

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that calling in their discrete (categorical) acts in the world. Rahner is offering here his
interpretation of the biblical (1 Tim. 2:4) claim, that ‘God wills the salvation of all’. This
insistence on the universality of uncreated grace meshes nicely with Rahner’s teaching
about the ‘anonymous Christian’. Whenever a person (every person, whether an explicit
disciple of Christ or not) acts authentically, in knowing and loving as one should and as
perfective of the self, God’s gracious involvement is presupposed.

In presenting his ideas about uncreated grace, Rahner draws a parallel between what
Aquinas had affirmed of the beatific vision and God’s grace (Rahner 1997: 118). For
Aquinas, in the vision that is the culmination of the journey God acts as the form of the
viewer: God is united to the comprehensor as the form by which the essence of God is
seen and grasped. No created form would suffice for this direct and total vision of God.
For Rahner, the same is so in the graced life of the individual in this world and prior to
reaching the end of life in the beatific vision. As uncreated grace, God acts as a sort of
form of the human agent, becoming a constitutive element of the human. Rahner’s
extension of Aquinas’s teaching about the vision to grace itself and life in this world
underscores in a quite striking way God’s intimate involvement in the life of the human,
while also affirming that it is the human to whom God is present, who wills, and does, and
knows.

Grace is in an obvious way elevating. By grace, one opts for God as end and lives out of
that decision, in the particular decisions and acts of life in the world. Through those acts,
one moves closer to God as to beatifying end and is readied for the culmination of the
journey in the direct vision of God, the immediate grasping and loving of the ultimate
Truth and Good. But grace is healing and redemptive as well (Rahner 1997: 116ff.). Sin
has been and remains a problem. There is much that calls the human away from God and
from genuine flourishing. While God gives all the opportunity to choose God and to act
accordingly, not all accept God’s offer; some reject that offer and stay within themselves
and for themselves. Even when the fundamental option for God has been made, the
temptation remains to reject God, to replace God with other goods that are limited,
partial, and sometimes illusory. In his account of the human condition, Rahner offers a
fairly robust teaching about original sin and its effects, and sin as itself a feature of
human existence. By sin, one stays self-enclosed, resists those movements made possible
by God that would allow for self-transcendence, and through correct relationship to God,
real fulfilment. All humans stand guilty before God, for the original and personal
rejections of God’s saving presence. Yet, while sin is real, it is not equal in strength to
uncreated grace and grace can overcome it; but that involves the free acceptance of God
in grace, rejection of sin, and acceptance of God’s word of forgiveness by the person as
called by God, and acting in accord with this fundamental orientation to God.

The universality of grace and of God’s gracious presence to all might seem to put into
question the centrality and significance of Jesus Christ. Rahner rejects the charge (1997:
157ff.). For him, God’s activity in the world and will for salvation is ordered to Jesus
Christ and God’s love is most fully expressed in Jesus. Jesus shows what it means to be
authentically and fully human, to live for God, and in every action and passion to be for

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Grace and Justification

God. Jesus did not waver from his fidelity and obedience to God. In Jesus, at the same
time, there is a full manifestation of God. God is present and active in Jesus and fully
identifies with him—to the point of a union that is truly hypostatic. In Jesus, God and man
are one. By Jesus, God is intimately and concretely present to those whose salvation God
wills. Jesus is himself grace, God’s offer in love of forgiveness (to sinful people who stand
guilty, because of their wavering and lapses) before God, and of elevation to new life. The
call in Christ does not necessitate its response, but the apt response to God in Christ is
faith, hope, and charity, and so to emulate Jesus in the fundamental choice for God and
acting in that light.

Liberation theology displays other significant developments.. The sources of liberation


theology are multiple, not least the Scriptures. But there are several points of contact
with Rahner and particular liberation theologians may see themselves in a creative
dialogue with Rahner. As in Rahner, uncreated grace is to the fore and lesser attention is
given to created grace. As in Rahner, grace is the complement of an anthropology, and
human acting at its most authentic is seen in the context of God’s presence and activity in
the world. That acting is also God’s and God’s activity is the presupposition for human
acting. As in Rahner, grace as God’s love is healing as well as elevating (Segundo 1973:
63).

Now, Rahner knows that humans are social beings, who live in community, and who
express their fidelity to God through their love of neighbour. He supplements his
transcendental analysis with considerations of the categorical, with the actual knowing
and loving of God in and through the knowing and loving that might mark life in this
world. But in Rahner, the concern would seem to be primarily with the individual (as is
the case with much of the preceding Catholic tradition); it is the transcendental analysis
that would seem to stand to the fore, with the categorical supplementing, confirming, and
illustrating what is available through an account of a human as free and responsible
subject who is in relationship to God. In liberation theology, the individual is not
discounted, but the social dimensions of human life are given their proper due. Without
disputing the value of transcendental analysis, the focus is resolutely on life as actually
lived and the ways in which human beings, individually and collectively, are shaped by
history and might shape it.

And so in considering grace and sin, a double claim is offered. Sin is both personal and
communal, corporate, to be ascribed to groups of people, to communities, and to their
institutions. There are societal structures that are sinful, which privilege some at the
expense of others and which promote injustice rather than equality. Correspondingly, the
grace that enters into history, enters the life of the individual, to be sure, but has a
corporate character as well (Comblin 1993: 525). A human is a human-in-community. The
grace that brings forgiveness and heals also liberates, empowering human beings who
work together in the service of God in the implementation of God’s will in history.

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Grace and Justification

Grace helps to account for the activism promoted in liberation theology. Grace is gift. It is
also vocation (Comblin 1993: 526). The world stands at odds with God, with God’s
intention for history, for respect for the dignity of all human beings, and equality and
justice for all. Humans in their relations are marked by sin and guilt, by the privileging of
the few at the expense of the many, by situations and structures that promote injustice,
and which deny to too many their dignity as beings made by and for God. The kingdom
that Jesus proclaimed is future, but it is now being implemented by God and by those who
accept God’s grace of forgiveness and acceptance, which at the same time is power.
Grace is freedom, the power to liberate from sin and guilt and for God and the kingdom.
There is no easy optimism here. The transformation wrought by grace is not complete in
the individual and certainly not in society and its structures (Segundo 1973: 139). But by
grace, Christ’s disciples can and will work with God in challenging sin and working for
justice, out of the love that God’s love for humans in Christ engenders.

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Grace and Justification

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Joseph P. Wawrykow

Joseph P. Wawrykow teaches in the Theology Department at the University of Notre


Dame, where he is also a fellow of the Medieval Institute. He is the author of God’s
Grace and Human Action (1995) and The Westminster Handbook to Thomas Aquinas
(2005), and co-editor of Christ among the Medieval Dominicans (1998) and The
Theology of Thomas Aquinas (2005).

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